Sunday, 3 May 2015

Kolpak/UK passport signings muddy long-term thinking

Colin Ingram, Ashwell Prince, Alviro Petersen, Richard Levi.

They're all good cricketers, have scored thousands of runs and have come to terms with the fact that their international careers are over. There are plenty of other names out there, all of them taking advantage of the legal loophole that allows them to ply their trade in the UK. Without doubt, each will score a lot of runs for their counties, in all likelihood win them a match or two and quite likely justify their signings.

What it won't do is a single darn thing for the development of local talent in their counties. Those defending them will, of course, say that playing alongside them will improve the young players in the side or squad, but does it?

Think back to when Robin Peterson played a season for Derbyshire. That he was better than we had at that time is undeniable, but does anyone think that playing alongside him furthered the career of any of our young players? Signing the right overseas player can do and I see that as a key part of the role. You need someone who will inspire, motivate, set an example, just as Shiv Chanderpaul did, Dean Jones did, Martin Guptill did. But they need to be SPECIAL.

Do you need several such players? Lancashire clearly think so, as they have three Kolpaks. Glamorgan have at least two (I'm unsure of the status of a few others) and there are more of them around the circuit this year than for some time.

Our neighbours in Nottingham have brought in Brendon Taylor from Zimbabwe on a Kolpak deal this year, a very good batsman who I advocated several years ago would have been a worthwhile overseas signing for a discerning county. He is opening their batting and has already recorded a couple of centuries, yet there is a bigger picture.

Just three years ago, Sam Kelsall was a star player for England under-19s. A big future was predicted for a diminutive opening batsman from Staffordshire, perhaps another James Taylor, if you will. Last season, two years on, he was released. At the age of 21, it was decided that Kelsall wasn't going to make it. Two other Nottinghamshire players, Brett Hutton and Sam Wood, were in the same England set up and neither look close to becoming established senior cricketers, yet watch, I assume in frustration, as their county signs players from elsewhere, each pushing them further back in the queue.

I struggle to comprehend how you can be one of the best in your field at 19, yet surplus to requirements two years later. There are similar examples elsewhere: Shozair Ali at Worcestershire, Ben Collins at Leicestershire, Rammy Singh at Durham. The latter is trialling with us, having been released by Durham at the age of 21, an England under-19 batting star two years earlier.

Then there's Aneesh Kapil at Worcestershire. He moved to Surrey in the hope of opportunity, which may or may not come his way. Given the southern county's reputation for spending big on established talent, I know where I would put my money.

Many of today's established players didn't look the part until their mid-twenties. Many current and former players I have spoken to freely admit that they didn't really know their games until that age. If they did, they struggled for consistency and the pressures of the game are considerable. Peter Burgoyne is a classic case, on our own doorstep. So too Azeem Rafiq, a huge prospect at one time, but now outside the senior game at the age of 24. There are many other examples, but I have heard plenty of tales of players for who the game was made too complicated by well-intentioned coaches, or who didn't realise that playing for a living was completely different to playing for fun. Some didn't make the most of opportunity, others simply didn't get it.

How many talented young cricketers with potential to go far are discarded prematurely in the quest for short-term success? The impatience of supporters and management boards/committees is a major factor. If your job as county coach depends on immediate success, rather than long-term development, then who can blame you for spending more time looking at established overseas players with UK passports, than youngsters on your own patch?

It is difficult, but I applaud Derbyshire for doing it the right way now. We went down the Kolpak/UK passport route with minimal success, but I look at the current squad and am heartened. We are competitive and show signs of being successful, the major factors of which, the youngsters aside, make interesting reading.

There's Wayne Madsen, who couldn't break through in South Africa so moved here to qualify for England. Wes Durston, released by Somerset after minimal opportunity. Tony Palladino, who left Essex after seasons of being a largely peripheral figure - and Mark Footitt, who was released by Nottinghamshire. Somewhat prematurely, as it turns out, don't you think? All have enjoyed the best of their careers from their mid-twenties onwards, rather reinforcing my argument.

I hope that Derbyshire continue to do the right thing and promote young talent. There appears a greater sense of purpose and togetherness among players who have developed through age-group cricket. Not all of our current batch will become top county cricketers, but I think that most of them will and at least a couple could go further still.

How many of their counterparts around the country will get that opportunity? How big an impact will it have on England's cricket future?

The BBC website records ELEVEN players who came into the county game on Kolpak or UK passport deals this past winter. A full team, over and above those already here. How many will qualify, as Wayne Madsen and Chesney Hughes have, for England?

Or are genuinely good enough to take the place of a lad who had done so...

2 comments:

Marc said...

The Kolpak route will always be a feature of cricket,unless or until the rules are changed. There is pressure on the coach/head of cricket (or what ever name the leader goes under)to produce results and strive for success. Part of the problem is they know themselves they only have a limited shelf life and taking a longer term outlook is unlikely to prolong their own stay.

Few coaches have England at the forefront of their mind and they can hardy be blamed for that,given the shambolic way the national team is being run.Any sympathy I may have had for England went out of the window a long time ago.

I,m not in favour of the Kolpak theory but I do believe there is some benefit to be derived from young players playing with and against top foreigners.Cream will always rise to the top and those good enough will make the grade.

People involved with cricket from the chairman down to the average supporter all crave success and not many are too concerned as to how that is achieved. It may not be an ideal situation but I can,t see it changing any time soon.

knack said...

I'm sure we all agree with the sentiment but it has been this way for decades now, just the quality has changed. When i played for Leicestershire in the early eighties we had Andy Roberts, Brian Davison , Paddy Clift , George Ferris and Mike Haysman . Two of these played in the seconds, leaving only 9 spots for the rest of us and this was the same for our opposition. The result though was hard fought second team games and an early exposure to international standard cricketers . It quickly became apparent who could cut it. I do think that the gulf between first and seconds is now so vast that it is approaching being irrelevant when assessing talent and the leagues have become a better indicator of ability.